A lot of international relations theories are being stress-tested by events in the Arab world right now, with some emerging better than others. Two in particular that are worth mentioning are Ian Bremmer’s 2006 book, “The J Curve,” which predicts a dangerous dip into instability when closed, authoritarian states attempt to open up to the world; and Evgeny Morozov’s new book, “The Net Delusion,” which critiques the notion that Internet connectivity is inherently democratizing. (In the interests of transparency, I work as a consultant for Bremmer’s political risk consultancy, Eurasia Group, and penned a pre-publication blurb for Morozov’s book.) Both […]

Hollywood, the Oscars and Soft Power

For all the talk about America’s declining global influence, it’s worth mentioning that the Oscar awards were front-page news in just about every English-language foreign daily that I scan each morning, as well as in both French-language dailies I read. Compare that to the French equivalent, the Césars, which, in case you missed it — and unless you’re a film buff, you probably did — took place earlier this week. As for the Césars, among the highlights were the honorary award given to Quentin Tarantino as well as the ceremony’s host, Jodie Foster. To be clear, this isn’t a value […]

Global Insider: Diplomatic Immunity

The U.S. and Pakistan are currently engaged in a diplomatic tussle over Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor held in Pakistan for allegedly killing two men in Lahore in January. The U.S. has called for Davis’ release, citing his diplomatic immunity. In an e-mail interview, Linda Frey, professor of European History at the University of Montana and Marsha Frey, professor of European History at Kansas State University, co-authors of “The History of Diplomatic Immunity,” discussed the history and operation of diplomatic immunity. WPR: What does diplomatic immunity cover and exclude, and who receives it? Linda Frey and Marsha Frey: As a […]

Libya, Iraq and the Responsibility to Protect

If the debate about how the U.S. and the international community should respond to the carnage in Libya highlights one thing, it is that we still have not arrived at either a domestic or global consensus about when and why to intervene militarily in the affairs of a sovereign state. I include Iraq in the title of this post for three reasons. First, the pre-emptive nature of the Iraq invasion in many ways served to sidetrack the debate over humanitarian interventions. Second, the outcome of the Iraq War served to chasten the broad middle of the policy debate, if not […]

As more sickening details emerge of what actually happened to CBS reporter Lara Logan in Tahrir Square on Feb. 13, the partisan rhetoric shows no signs of abating. Some claim that it was “pro-Mubarak” thugs who sexually assaulted and almost killed the 39-year-old mother of two, while others point the finger at “pro-liberation” hooligans. Still others have used the incident to demonize Muslims in general. Such distinctions, however, have nothing to do with why Logan was attacked and, in fact, obscure the real issue. Like many millions of women, girls and young boys around the world, Logan was not a […]

Last weekend I attended a conference in San Antonio on the relevance of Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War” to the practice of contemporary American foreign policy. Sponsored by the Liberty Fund, the conference’s motivating concept and focus was the relationship between democracy and empire in Thucydides. The conference attendees included scholars of several stripes, including War College faculty, former policymakers from the Bush administration and prominent think tank fellows. This was no dry academic conference focused on textual minutiae. Rather, it was intended to give policymakers — and those who educate policymakers — space for thinking about what Thucydides […]

Several additional national security strategies have been issued in recent weeks, including the publication earlier this month of both an updated National Military Strategy and the first-ever National Security Space Strategy. Though these texts shed additional light on the priorities and perspectives of the Obama administration’s national security team at mid-term, they serve other purposes than just articulating strategy. The National Military Strategy (.pdf) starts by describing the security environment in which the Pentagon operates, the U.S. military’s core objectives and the Defense Department’s strategies for pursuing them. It then assesses the adequacy of U.S. military capabilities to achieve these […]

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on the G-20. Part I examined efforts to rebalance the global economy. Part II examines efforts to reform the global monetary system. Leading up to and throughout the G-20 finance ministers meeting last weekend, murmurs were heard about the role of the dollar and the need to reform the global monetary system. This is nothing new, of course, as a variety of major economies have expressed an interest in demoting the dollar since the global financial crisis broke out in 2008. The most recent examples came from Brazil and China, […]

The decline of the American “empire” has been a persistent theme of the punditocracy these past several years, with the underlying logic being Washington’s inability to extend, ad infinitum, the primacy seemingly conferred upon it at Cold War’s end. The global financial crisis has now further revealed a suddenly — and stunningly — rebalanced global order, and as a result, Americans are supposed to dread the vast uncertainties of our allegedly “post-American world.” Worse, Americans are also being presented with a patently false binary choice: Should the U.S. do what is necessary to regain its primacy or simply let it […]

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the G-20. Part I examines efforts to rebalance the global economy. Part II will appear tomorrow and will examine efforts to reform the global monetary system. Over the weekend, G-20 finance ministers met in Paris to discuss steps on how to address persistent global current account imbalances that some fear could send the global economy back into recession. From the outset, the meetings reinforced what we already know about the group: Preferences among the members are incredibly diverse, making progress toward cooperation painfully slow. This is exacerbated by the […]

It was recently reported that Somali pirates have been holding the crew of the North Korean cargo ship Chilsanbong Cheonnyeonho since it was captured last March. Ten months on, the ship remains detained, with hefty ransom demands likely still outstanding. With no records for the vessel found at maritime insurance tracker Seasearcher, the possibility that its crew may now be facing abandonment is becoming ever more likely. However, given South Korea’s dramatic rescue of one of its own vessels captured by pirates in January, the case of the Chilsanbong now offers the Koreas an opportunity for military cooperation at a […]

Observers of the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the Arab world have focused with great excitement on the role played by new media, suggesting the events demonstrate the power of social networks to build a revolution. The rebellion, they say, was a uniquely 21st-century product of Twitter, Facebook and even Wikileaks. The reality, however, is much more complex. Many factors came into play to unleash the chain reaction that came crashing into Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Some of those factors are as new as the iPhone, others as old as the slingshot. But what made the long-simmering popular […]

One simple rule of revolution is that regimes fall when their security services refuse to fire on protesters, while uprisings often falter when security forces do go ahead and shoot. The situation in Egypt remains fluid, but thus far the Egyptian army has not violently put down the protest movement. Why? The answer is complicated. Mark Thompson argued at Time’s Swampland blog that the exposure of Egyptian military officers to norms of professionalism and civilian control in the United States may have been determinative in the Egyptian army’s decision not to crush the anti-Mubarak protests. Thompson’s argument draws on several […]

The Obama administration’s reaction to the dramatic events in Egypt has inspired many analogies in recent days. Its initial caution and clumsiness, followed by its conviction to “be on the right side of history,” reminded optimists of the Bush administration’s reaction in 1989 to the uprisings in Eastern Europe, for example, and pessimists of the Carter administration’s reaction a decade earlier to Iran’s revolution. The Obama administration’s air of ambivalence, however, evokes a perennial condition of international relations. Accustomed as most of us are to power hierarchies, we often overlook how difficult and complex actual relations can be between big […]

One of the most complex and difficult humanitarian problems confronting the international community today is that of protracted refugee situations. These are refugee situations that have moved beyond the emergency phase, but where solutions in the foreseeable future do not exist. Many of the refugees left behind in these situations have to live under terrible conditions, warehoused in camps or stuck in shanty towns, exposed to dangers, and with restrictions placed upon their rights and freedoms. I first became aware of the significance and dimensions of the contemporary problem of prolonged exile in 2001, after a brief visit to the […]

One need not venture far into the world of refugee assistance to encounter a maxim whose air of axiomatic truth can be a conversation-stopper, and whose terms, like sacred postulates of the refugee-response system, are rarely unpacked: The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has the refugee-protection mandate. But several issues within that black box are worth illuminating. Namely, what does “refugee protection” mean? What is the nature of the “mandate”? And is it true that UNHCR is its unique possessor? While this might seem like a dry line of inquiry, like so much else these days, […]

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